Saturday, January 26, 2008

Obama Wins Big in the State of Strom Thurmond

by Norman Markowitz

As I write this, Senator Obama has a 28 point lead over Senator Hillary Clinton with John Edwards receiving 18 percent of the vote in the South Carolina Democratic primary. And in his victory speech, Senator Obama continued to call for unity and action against those who believe that he is on mission impossible.

There is still a long way to go, Clinton still has more of the money and much more of the organization, John Edwards is still better on the key domestic issues, and Dennis Kucinich is far and away the best of all of the candidates across the board (if we were living in a color blind world, which of course we are not). But this is a remarkable victory for the whole people that Senator Obama continues to appeal to in his campaign.

First a little history, because that is my profession. South Carolina gave us John C. Calhoun, the "philosopher" of the slave power before the Civil War, who saw even the racist exclusionary democracy associated with his fellow slaveholder and political enemy, Andrew Jackson as a threat to the slaveholder class. He advocated instead giving the slave states a permanent veto over democratic majorities that would threaten them, the doctrine of a "concurrent majority," and began to call for secession decades before it took place.

By end of the nineteenth century, South Carolina was represented by the racist pseudo populist politician, "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman. Its African American population, which had once constituted a majority and had elected many representatives at both the state and federal level, had lost its citizenship rights. In the 20th century, Pitchfork Ben's successors, "Cotton Ed" Smith and then, of course, Strom Thurmond, a young segregationist who began his political career by winning a local council election in 1929, the year of the stock market crash made their political living by defending Jim Crow brutality.

Over the next 70 years, Strom, was a Democratic Congressman and Governor, a segregationist third party presidential candidate in 1948, a segregationist Democratic leader in the Senate, setting personal time records for filibusters in the 1950s and 1960s, a Republican Senator from 1964 to his retirement at the beginning of the 21st century. In 1968 Strom supported Richard Nixon in the hope that Nixon as president would let the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which gave African Americans in South Carolina the right to vote for the first time since Reconstruction, die.

But it didn't die and tonight the African American voters who Thurmond and his predecessors sought to segregate and disenfranchise for nearly a century after the Civil War, were apparently the key to this huge victory. As was once written about another reactionary politician who died before history completely buried him I wish that Strom Thurmond was alive to see this night: he would have died all over again.

Thurmond as was revealed after his death, had a child with an African American servant women in the 1920s, and continued to see his daughter over the decades while he made his name as a segregationist politician. That is also an example of what is so tangled a history in the U.S., where poor white males were appealed to by politicians like Thurmond who portrayed Blacks as threats to white women while they used their power to do what they wanted with Black women.

Earlier today I had planned to write an article making fun of a New York Times article about the international interest in the U.S. presidential race and the very naive contention that Obama and Clinton may be re-invigorating "democracy" though the world.

The U.S. political system is, at best a second division political democracy by global standards and people throughout the world are always interested in the American presidency, because, as a Pakistani-born friend of mine and Marxist once told me, the President of the United States is the unelected President of much of the world, having more power over peoples lives than their own elected or unelected leaders.

But the fact that an African American and a woman are leading candidates for the presidential nomination is a big story. While sexism is sadly global, color racism in the U.S., rooted in a history of slavery and segregation which goes back to the 17th century, as people throughout the world know and have long known, is an "exceptional" characteristic of U.S. society, one that has been at the center of the deformation of political, economic, and social democracy throughout American history. That makes Senator Obama's victory tonight all the more important, and, in my opinion (and many, including some who read this, will probably disagree) more important than the victory of Hillary Clinton as a women for the presidential nomination would be.

The race for the nomination still has a long way to go but the possibility that the process will produce significant change and energize millions to participate in the political process and defeat the right Republicans is getting better.

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